My Great Adventure to Normandy & Back: A WWII Chronicle

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Zakhorova's statement follows an article written by Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, in Russia's International Affairs magazine. Lavrov said that the D-Day operations are part of "pseudo-historical theories" introduced to the "Western education system" that "belittle" the efforts of the Soviet Union during World War II. Text size Aa Aa. World leaders commemorate D-Day operation. We know that some ships grounded at Romney, far to the east, so that such a large fleet must inevitably have been scattered along the coast. Nevertheless, to have transported such a large force of cavalry across the Channel was a magnificent, in fact unprecedented, achievement and just two vessels were lost on the voyage - one of which carried William's soothsayer who failed to foresee his own demise.

While celebrating his victory at a banquet in York, Harold heard that William had landed at Pevensey Bay. Harold's brother, Gyrth , offered to lead the army against William, pointing out that as king he should not risk the chance of being killed. So, even if Gyrth was beaten, William's army would starve in the wasted countryside as winter closed in and would be forced either to move upon London, where the rest of the English forces would be waiting, or return to their ships.

William the Conqueror

Harold rejected the advice and immediately assembled the housecarls who had survived the fighting against King Harald Hardrada and marched south. Harold travelled at such a pace that many of his troops failed to keep up with him. When Harold arrived in London he waited for the local fyrd to assemble and for the troops of the earls of Mercia and Northumbria to arrive from the north. After five days they had not arrived and so Harold decided to head for the south coast without his northern troops.

Harold selected a spot that was protected on each flank by marshy land. At his rear was a forest. The English housecarls provided a shield wall at the front of Harold's army. They carried large battle-axes and were considered to be the toughest fighters in Europe. The fyrd were placed behind the housecarls. The leaders of the fyrd, the thanes, had swords and javelins but the rest of the men were inexperienced fighters and carried weapons such as iron-studded clubs, scythes, reaping hooks and hay forks. William of Malmesbury reported: "The courageous leaders mutually prepared for battle, each according to his national custom.

The English, as we have heard, passed the night without sleep in drinking and singing, and, in the morning, proceeded without delay towards the enemy; all were on foot, armed with battle-axes The king himself on foot stood with his brother, near the standard, in order that, while all shared equal danger none might think of retreating On the other side, the Normans passed the whole night in confessing their sins, and received the Sacrament in the morning. The infantry with bows and arrows, formed the vanguard, while the cavalry, divided into wings, were held back.

There are no accurate figures of the number of soldiers who took part at the Battle of Hastings. Historians have estimated that William had about 5, infantry and 3, knights while Harold had about 2, housecarls and 5, members of the fyrd. Norman archers then walked up the hill and when they were about a yards away from Harold's army they fired their first batch of arrows.

Using their shields, the housecarls were able to block most of this attack. Volley followed volley but the shield wall remained unbroken. At around The Norman army led by William now marched forward in three main groups. On the left were the Breton auxiliaries. On the right were a more miscellaneous body that included men from Poitou, Burgundy, Brittany and Flanders.

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In the centre was the main Norman contingent "with Duke William himself, relics round his neck, and the papal banner above his head". The English held firm and eventually the Normans were forced to retreat. Members of the fyrd on the right broke ranks and chased after them. A rumour went round that William was amongst the Norman casualties. Afraid of what this story would do to Norman morale, William pushed back his helmet and rode amongst his troops, shouting that he was still alive.

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He then ordered his cavalry to attack the English who had left their positions on Senlac Hill. English losses were heavy and very few managed to return to the line. At about This gave both sides a chance to remove the dead and wounded from the battlefield. William, who had originally planned to use his cavalry when the English retreated, decided to change his tactics.

At about one in the afternoon he ordered his archers forward. This time he told them to fire higher in the air. The change of direction of the arrows caught the English by surprise. The arrow attack was immediately followed by a cavalry charge. Casualties on both sides were heavy.

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Those killed included Harold's two brothers, Gyrth and Leofwin. However, the English line held and the Normans were eventually forced to retreat. The fyrd, this time on the left side, chased the Normans down the hill. William ordered his knights to turn and attack the men who had left the line. Once again the English suffered heavy casualties. William ordered his troops to take another rest.

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The Normans had lost a quarter of their cavalry. Many horses had been killed and the ones left alive were exhausted. William decided that the knights should dismount and attack on foot. This time all the Normans went into battle together. The archers fired their arrows and at the same time the knights and infantry charged up the hill. It was now 4. Heavy English casualties from previous attacks meant that the front line was shorter.

The Normans could now attack from the side. The few housecarls that were left were forced to form a small circle round the English standard. The Normans attacked again and this time they broke through the shield wall and Harold and most of his housecarls were killed. With their king dead, the fyrd saw no reason to stay and fight, and retreated to the woods behind. The Normans chased the fyrd into the woods but suffered further casualties themselves when they were ambushed by the English.

According to William of Poitiers : "Victory won, the duke returned to the field of battle. He was met with a scene of carnage which he could not regard without pity in spite of the wickedness of the victims. Far and wide the ground was covered with the flower of English nobility and youth.


Harold's two brothers were found lying beside him. He refused, declaring that Harold should be buried on the shore of the land which he sought to guard. William and his army now marched on Dover where he remained for a week. He then went north calling in on Canterbury before arriving on the outskirts of London. He met resistance in Southwark and in an act of revenge set fire to the area.

Londoners refused to submit to William so he turned away and marched through Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire. He ravaged the countryside and by the end of the year the people of London, surrounded by devastated lands, began to consider the possibility of surrender. They gave him hostages and swore oaths of fealty, and he promised to be a gracious lord to them. After his coronation, William the Conqueror claimed that all the land in England now belonged to him.

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William retained about a fifth of this land for his own use. The rest were given to tenants-in-chief or barons , who had helped him defeat Harold at the Battle of Hastings. These barons had to provide armed men on horseback for military service. The number of knights a baron had to provide depended on the amount of land he had been given. When William granted land to a baron an important ceremony took place.

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The baron knelt before the king and said: "I become your man. The baron would then carry out similar ceremonies with his knights.